… to Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the Academy Award nominated documentary, The Act of Killing. (You know how your friends say My kid makes films. and you nod vaguely and move on to something else? UD isn’t going to do that anymore.)

Les UDs will probably not watch the awards show tonight, even though they’d maybe get glimpses of their friends the Oppenheimers in the audience. Both UDs are too distracted to watch (UD‘s under a deadline: A press approached her about publishing something UD‘s got cooking – The Electronic Burqa: Women, the Internet, and the Public Realm – and she promised a sample chapter by tomorrow morning; Mr UD is riveted to the news out of Ukraine), but UD will follow events online.

The jolting – perhaps ultimately morally awakening – surreality of Josh’s film (in which mass murderers gleefully, meticulously, theatrically, re-enact their killings) was the perfect backdrop for UD‘s discussion, in her Modernism class last week, of Dada and surreality. The blithe amusing infantile conscienceless bestiality on view in Josh’s film has its aesthetic origins, for UD at least, in Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic farce Ubu Roi (1896).

“We are all Ubu,” writes Roger Shattuck, “still blissfully ignorant of our destructiveness and systematically practicing the soul-devouring ‘reversal’ of flushing our conscience down the john. Ubu, unruffled king of tyrants and cuckolds, is more terrifying than tragedy.”

The shock, hilarity, and unsettledness that violent surrealistic art can sometimes provoke does seem to have its political purposes (Josh’s film has apparently provoked a national conversation in Indonesia.)

Ubu Roi was the basis for Jan Lenica’s animated film Ubu et la grande gidouille (1976) and was later adapted into Jane Taylor’s “Ubu and the Truth Commission” (1998), a play critical of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in response to the atrocities committed during Apartheid. Ubu Roi was also adapted for the film Ubu Król 2003 by Piotr Szulkin, highlighting the grotesque nature of political life in Poland immediately after the fall of communism.

Inspired by the black comedy of corruption within Ubu Roi, the Puerto Rican absurdist narrative “United States of Banana” by Giannina Braschi, dramatizes, with over-the-top grotesque flourishes … the fall of the American Empire and the liberation of Puerto Rico.

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